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(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) A parking meter pay station on Main Street in Salt Lake City.
Editorial: Can’t blame parking machines for city’s woes

Parking woes not just technical.

First Published Jun 20 2014 05:03 pm • Last Updated Jun 21 2014 05:48 pm

Salt Lake City government’s stumbling effort to modernize its parking meters just took another pratfall. Coming after technical glitches and missed revenue projections, the city now faces a lawsuit that alleges that every fine ever levied under the system may be illegal.  

The reason? City officials apparently neglected to change an old law that says parking meters must be "immediately contiguous" to parking spaces, and of course the new system’s blue pay stations can be a half-block away. The law also describes the meters as being coin-activated, while the new system does accept coins but also credit cards and payment via smartphones. 

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It’s not like everyone at City Hall just missed that change. The group suing the city found that there actually was a memo coming out of the city’s Community and Economic Development Department that said city attorneys had drafted changes to the law. But evidently the City Council never approved those changes. 

So three people who have paid fines – including one guy who racked up $1,450 since the new system went in – saw their opening. In addition to the outdated law, they say the city denies due process with an onerous appeals process and excessive fees.

Whether this screwup becomes a multi-million-dollar problem is in the hands of a 3rd District judge who must decide not just the merits of the case but also whether it would be a class-action suit, meaning that everyone who has been fined under the blue-tower system is potentially part of the suit. 

The city’s uncollected parking fines are already averaging more than $5.6 million for the fiscal year ending this month, the largest amount in at least five years. The city also missed its estimate for parking revenue by $900,000, which it blamed on a decision to divert resources away from fine collection. And that was on top of the failing pay stations that refused some credit cards and overheated in mid-summer and software glitches that fined people who didn’t overstay.

Even City Council member Kyle LaMalfa wonders if the $4.5 million parking system is a lost cause. "The question is, is the system so bad we have to abandon it and lose all the money we spent installing it."

It’s more than the machines that need work here. You can’t blame them for not passing the right laws.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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